People Watcher

words: Jessica Sowards
images: Jeremiah Sowards and Jackson Whitaker

I am an observer. A people-watcher. My walk through this broken world is dotted and flourished with a great appreciation for humanity and for the details of it. For a long time, I found this a trivial fact about myself, but in recent years, I’ve realized it is so much more. It is a saving grace.

 

Sometimes I have days when I am altogether overwhelmed. They are usually accentuated by hormonal cycles and by too many consecutive nights of bad sleep. I don’t choose these days, and I don’t like them, but occasionally, completely against my desires, I will wake up and be entirely overcome with hopelessness. All I can think about is the mess in the laundry room and the weeds in the garden and the fact that my six-year-old can’t read yet. Then it snowballs, and before I know it, I’m digging up old arguments with my husband Jeremiah and lamenting our debt and feeling like a complete and total failure at everything I do. I shut down. I want to hide. I don’t talk to anyone, because if I do talk to someone, I’ll have an emotional meltdown.

 

Today was an overwhelmed day.

 

I have fifty-two unread text messages. I won’t even tell you how many emails. My Instagram inbox would make a more organized woman weep and beg surrender.

 

I used to consider the fact that I found myself feeling this way about my life a grand failure, an integral flaw in my character. I considered it a weakness in my faith, perhaps a shortage in my revelation of Jesus. How could I, a redeemed child of God, ever feel so hopeless? Is He not the author of hope?

 

I woke up late this morning. The forecast had changed and instead of the rain I’d been expecting, I was disappointed by blue skies, high temperatures and the urgent need to water my wilting quarter-acre garden. The dishwasher had been broken for two days, and instead of my morning routine of putting the kettle on, I avoided the kitchen and its full display of dirty dishes.

 

The rest of the day played out with the perfect blend of temper tantrums, stubbed toes and spilled milk. All of these things played my nerves, like tiny irritations dancing across the stage of my frustration, waving their tiny, irritating fingers and making me want to crawl back in bed.

 

It’s the strangest thing. I used to respond to my feelings of being overwhelmed by hiding. I could tuck myself away, pull the covers over my head in my dark bedroom, and there, my overwhelmed days would stretch their legs and spread out past their twenty-four-hour allowance. They might sprawl out into a few days, into a week. And I would believe I might go on forever feeling like I was drowning.

 

Jeremiah has learned me well after eight years of marriage. He no longer engages with my lamenting on days like this. Instead, he sends me to a coffee shop and tells me to go have a cup of coffee and a talk with Jesus. He tells me to go and get my head on straight.

 

It’s not the coffee that helps calm the storm. It is absolutely the conversation with Jesus that does the trick. But, maybe not how you think. Do you know what deconstructs the stage of frustration? Do you know what takes my fear off the throne of my heart and firmly places Jesus and His heart back in its place of priority?

 

People. Humanity. In all its beautiful brokenness. I have found that when I feel life and her demands may just swallow me whole, I can always find a little perspective in the corner of a busy coffee house.

 

It started raining right as I parked my car tonight. I took a seat at a wobbly table in the corner and settled into observing.

 

The man in the red shirt seated in the brown leather chair. He’s reading a novel, seemingly unrushed and unfazed by anything at all. The woman straight across from me, texting on her phone with what I can only assume is her lover based on the way she smiles and blushes though she sits alone. The distinguished gentleman standing at the counter. He looks like he’s accomplished great things. But his eyes, they’re kind, and I imagine he may have had to fight for his softness. The girl working at the counter. She is bright. She laughs freely. The young woman sitting on the barstool. She looks sad; something is clearly weighing on her. She looks like she may have cried recently.

 

So, I start to pray for her.

 

And the next thing I know, my dirty dishes and harried morning hardly have a hold at all. Here, at the wobbly table with Jesus, I realize how we are all juggling our lives in search of balance, of passion, of love. I trade my self-centered view for the compassion of a King that loved His people enough to walk among them, to touch them and heal them.

 

God is so faithful in my weakness. He is so faithful to calm my storms and to paint over the areas of my heart that have given in to desperation with a fresh layer of hope. He is so faithful to give me perspective and to shoulder the burden of my overwhelmed days.

These people may not have even noticed me. Engrossed as they are in their novels and conversations, I am just another person in the coffee shop. I guess that’s kind of the point.

 

At the end of even the most flustered day, I am just another person in the coffee shop, another blessed and beloved person. And tomorrow the sun will rise again, and I’ll respond to my text messages and try again to teach my six-year-old to read. I’ll keep living my life as a beautifully imperfect, redeemed child of God. His grace will be sufficient. It always is.

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